The Senate on Tuesday approved an Arizona police chief as the top border official in a near party-line vote, as President Joe Biden deals with record migrant arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border and criticism from both the right and left over his immigration policies.
Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus, 61, will become commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the 60,000-person agency overseeing border security, trade and travel. CBP is parent agency of the U.S. Border Patrol, where many agents oppose what they describe as Biden’s more welcoming approach to immigration.
Magnus was approved by a vote of 50-47, with Senator Susan Collins the lone Republican joining Democrats in support.
Arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border reached a record 1.7 million in the 2021 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30. Republicans have latched onto immigration as a central issue in the run-up to the 2022 congressional elections and blamed the increased crossings on Biden’s reversal of some of former President Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration policies.
Migration experts say poverty, violence and food insecurity are factors driving migrants to leave Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Magnus, who worked for police departments in Michigan, North Dakota and California before joining the Tucson force in 2016, will be thrust into the center of that political debate.
When Biden nominated Magnus for the role in April, the White House touted him as a reformer focused on establishing community trust in law enforcement and holding officers accountable.
Magnus drew media attention in 2014 as police chief in Richmond, California, where he was photographed holding a “Black Lives Matter” sign at a protest, later calling it a gesture of goodwill and not a political statement.
In 2017, Magnus penned a New York Times opinion piece that criticized Trump’s move to withhold federal funds from so-called sanctuary cities that limit cooperation with immigration enforcement.
Magnus will be the agency’s first Senate-confirmed commissioner since 2018. Mark Morgan, a Trump appointee, was acting CBP commissioner from July 2019 to January 2021, when Biden took office. Troy Miller, a career CBP official, has since served as acting commissioner.